Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Proper Christian Attitude Toward Free Speech, Public Debate, and Politics

Some say that it is American to criticize our leaders. I do not deny that. Freedom of speech is a privilege and right protected by the Bill of Rights and the Book of Mormon (Alma 30: 7, 11). But, I am not talking about what is American, I am talking about what is Christian. Christians should be held to a higher standard of behavior. So, according to the Bible, when it comes to "evil speaking," "cursing," and "dishonoring" our public servants, I feel that such behavior is unacceptable for a Christian.

I feel the scriptures advocate political activism and open debate when it is focused on ideas and the issues. But when debate turns into personal attacks, name calling, "mud-slinging" and ad hominem; it has crossed the line. Christian Americans should continue in the arena of ideas and continuing to help us all learn from past mistakes and help our leaders make future correct decisions. I would hope that Christian Americans would set a good example when engaged in the public debate.

Jesus Christ, Abinidi, and Captain Moroni were all excellent examples of "conscientious objectors" in a different sense of the term. They criticized religious and political policy but at the same time they were not above the law. Instead, they submitted themselves to the law by paying taxes, serving in the military, and even being put to death.

Rom. 13:1-2,6-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. . . For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Ex. 22: 28
Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

Acts 23: 2-5 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

2 Sam. 6: 3, 6-7
And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. . . And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

Alma 30: 7, 11
Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds. . . For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.


Jeff G said...

"Once our leaders have made a decision, with the good of the country in mind, we are expected to support that decision."

Riiiiight. Just like Captain Moroni and Abinadi, right?

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. There is as much a tradition of critique in Christianity as there is of submitting to earthly leaders. If the Gospels are to be believed, Jesus constantly criticized the political and religious status quo.

BRoz said...

Abinidi was prophet and Jesus is God. So, it's their job to steady the ark. And, remeber that both Abinidi and Jesus submitted to the rulers judgement to be put to death. Christ "opened not his mouth." Abinidi was commanded to say the things God commanded him to say.

On the other hand, I think Captain Moroni is a great example of proper political activism. There is obviously a balance. We are encouraged to write our leaders like Captain Moroni. He did criticize, and even threaten a revolution. But, he didn't conspire until he knew the heart of Pahoran.

So, what is the right balance. What is political activism and what is "ark steadying." Where is the line?

Marc said...

You've certainly twisted and obfuscated scripture to make a political point. To the contrary... it's clearly our patriotic duty to second guess our leaders to ensure that their mistakes are never made again.

Natasha said...

I'm assuming that this is targeted to those who criticize the current administration, right? But to be consistent, you need to support them all. I suppose this means that you will be supporting liberal administrations and their well- reasoned decisions about liberal social policies, correct?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't buy the comparison. I discern in the scriptures encouragement to live lawfully and show due respect to government institutions and even politicians, but I see NO reason to accord political entities the same kind of deference as religious entities.

The whole reason we respect priesthood authority is because we see it, by very definition, as being connected to and guided by God. In politics there is no such guarantee (in fact, isn't that why the revolutionary Americans "steadied the ark" and rejected the leadership of an earlier George?)

Political institutions, especially democratic ones that value speech, not only allow for "ark steadying," but in fact ecourage it as a central tenet of civic responsibility. If I think George Bush is doing a woeful job as president, and that he's got a bad track record for decision making, why in the world would I not raise a ruckus if I think he's about to make another lousy decision? If I don't think he has prophetic connection to the heavens, he doesn't have an ark for me to steady.

Mark N. said...

According to the Joseph Smith Translation, Romans 13 has nothing to do with earthly political secular government, and everything to do with the higher authorities "in the church".

Wherefore, it came to pass that I did ignore said reference as an example of an exhortation to blindly obey the government.

BRoz said...

Good points all. Please do not misunderstand. I am all in favor of engaging in the public debate. I think every American should be opinionated and contribute to the wealth of ideas.

That includes contributing ideas to the current "war on terror." However, I usually find most people comments short on ideas and heavy on "slander, personal attacts, and criticism." I am all for ideas.

There is no difference between how we should respect church government vs. civil government. Exept that we are given specific criteria in the Declaration of Independence with respect to proper revolution and the Constitution provides criteria for impeachment. Church teaches us how we should act in the other aspects of our lives, at work, at home, and in our communities.

My purpose in the article was not discourage the sharing of constructive opinions and ideas, but to discourage slander, personal attacks, distructive criticism, and evil speaking of our elected officials.

However, if they break the law, then they should be investigated and tried under the law. They should be considered innocent until proven guilty and if found guilty they should accept the appointed consequences.

BRoz said...

Maybe "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" is the wrong word. Obviously, looking back and seeing where you went wrong is critical. As the addage goes, "those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it." I am for debating and sharing ideas. I am not for name calling, trash talking, and evil speaking.

BRoz said...

You will notice that the Brethern were very respectfull to Vice-president Cheney at BYU independent of whether they were in agreement with the administrations policies or not. Just because you disagree with the administration doesnt give you licence to bad-mouth them. Disagree with thier policies ok, but we shouldnt name call.

Anonymous said...

Second-guessing both our political leaders and our military commanders is an integral part of American democracy.

The average American not only has a right to "armchair-quarterback," he has a solemn obligation to do so.

Also, I find it amusing that charges of "armchair-quarterbacking" are always leveled at the President's critics, but never at the President's supporters (who are essentially doing the same thing).

Seth R.

Marc said...

That is completely different than what you had been arguing (e.g., "Once our leaders have made a decision, with the good of the country in mind, we are expected to support that decision"). If you're simply arguing for a more respectful and less vitriolic debate, then you have no disagreement from me.

Steve M. said...


You fail to make a distinction between mean-spirited ad hominem attacks ("mud-slinging") and the kind of constructive criticism that democracy demands.

Once our leaders have made a decision, with the good of the country in mind, we are expected to support that decision. Therefore, we should resist the temptation to "second guess" our leaders.

This is very irresponsible advice. It's also illustrative of the infatuation with authority that is unfortunately so prevalent in Mormon culture.

BRoz said...

I have decided to remove the "ark-steadying" comment from my post. I may be wrong about my initial opinion. So, I am going to remove it and rethink it.

Christ, Abinidi, and Captain Moroni were all excellent examples of "conscientious objectors." However, at the same time they were not above the law and they submitted themselves to the law by paying taxes, serving in the military and being put to death.

BRoz said...

Let us remind ourselves that we do not live in a Democracy. We live in a Representative democracy (A republic). We do not just do what the majority of people want to do. We weren't even supposted to elect our president that way. The constitution set it up that an electoral college elects the president.

If you read the Federalist Papers the founding fathers were just a afraid of tyranny of the majority as they were from tyranny by a monarch. Therefore, even the founding fathers had a rather healthy "infatuation with authority."

Jeremy Jensen said...

"Therefore, even the founding fathers had a rather healthy "infatuation with authority.""

I don't follow. Why is protecting the rights of political minorities indicative of an "infatuation with authority?" The anti-majoritarian provisions of the constitution protect everyone from having their rights trampled, not just those with whom prevailing authorities agree.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I seriously doubt my lack of support for Bush's foreign policy is making Thomas Jefferson roll over in his grave.

Seth R.

a random John said...

There is no such thing as political ark steadying. I am unaware of a commandment from God that states that you'll be instantly struck dead for using all you expressive ability to oppose and denounce evil (or merely stupid) acts and policies be they those of George W Bush or of Bill Clinton.

In fact, I'd suggest the opposite. If you feel in your heart that a leader is doing something wrong you have a moral obligation to take action. If you do not perhaps you die a little.

You seem a bit obsessed with calling things ark steadying. I suggest that you take a step back and consider this.

Anonymous said...

this is the best bit of comedy I've read all day.

As if our very religion wasn't founded on dissatisfaction and willingness to voice an opposing view.

BRoz said...

I guess I should have expected this kind of response to a political posting. I had hoped to have conveyed my point better. I am not against speaking up for the truth. I just think there is a correct way to go about it.

For example. I am a medical resident and the chair of my medical department would like the residents to do an additional month in the SICU (surgical intensive care unit) in addition to the the 2 months we do in shock trauma (STICU), 1 month medical (MICU), 1 month pediatric (PICU), and 1 month cardiac (CCU). Time in the ICU are the most rigorous months during residency and this SICU time would be at the expense of an elective month (easier month).

Now, from our director's perspective, he believes we would do well to be exposed to some complicated surgical issues as well as have more opportunity for procedures.

From my point of view having done a SICU rotation as a SUBInternship during medical school and after talking to the surgery and anesthesia residents who work on that service:

1. Most of the procedures are done in the OR before the patient arrives in the SICU such as intubation, chest tubes, central lines, pacer wires, balloon pumps, art lines, etc.

2. And the kind of surgical problems these patient have such as abdominal mesh closures, fistulas, Left ventricular assist devices or balloon pumps, Melecot and T-tube management are not at all necessary for an Emergency Medicine doctor to know because a patient would never leave the hospital with these things still open or in.

3. Also, we need our elective time to focus on administrative projects, research and to just get a breather. Our residency happens to be one of the harder working EM residencies in the nation and I don't think we need to add to the rigor of the program especially when our test scores, and board pass rates are among the best in the country. SICU isn't even a suggested rotation by the national EM residency curiculum committee.

So, our director was appropriate to seek our input on the matter and I wrote a respecful letter laying out my case against the SICU rotation. Even though I am against the rotation, I am trying not to criticize my boss behind his back with the other residents. That is the "evil speaking" I am talking about and would discourage. I do voice my opinion against the rotation and offer other ideas to accomplish the goal of getting more procedures such as doing another MICU rotation at a nearby army hospital for example.

However, in the end, if my boss decides to require this SICU rotation, how should I respond? Should I continue to tirelessly criticize his decision? Should I go on strike? Should I vocally seek his replacement. Should I quit? Should I be passive aggressive and perform poorly on the rotation? Absolutely not!

Our boss has made a compromise. He has suggested that 2 residents should go do the rotation and report back on how we like it. Now, I really don't think this a good idea either because I don't want to see anyone have to do the rotation, noone wants to do the rotation, and I don't think its possible to get an unbiased opinion on the rotation especially if 2 people are randomly choosen to do it.

But, Christ and Abinidi submitted to the law. The decision hasn't been made, and I will fight it, and debate it, and be appropriately vocal about it until the ultimage decision is made. But then I will submit myself to it. And, I don't want to but If someone is going to be made to do this rotation, I will volunteer to do it.

Now, I got alot of flack for my "steadying the ark" comment. But steadying the ark is a term akin to "play your own position" in soccer or football (Don't try to do someone elses job).

However, I do recognize that it is our duty to voice our opinion and engage in the public debate. So, by giving ideas we are playing our position as citizens and in no way "ark steadying."

However, I think we do start to "ark steady" if we backbite, evil speak, mud-sling, undermine, and are otherwise be passive aggressive about the President's (with the support of congress) decision to go to war.

At the same time, the congress has the ability to defund the war. That is their right. So, if you don't think we should be in this war then you are free to write your congressman and senator and express this.